Aug 252010
 
Too many peaches (and nectarines)

I went just a little crazy at the fruit farm

I love peaches. My grandfather was a peach farmer and so I grew up associating summer with juicy South Carolina peaches. The last few years have been hit or miss for local peach farmers, with late freezes wiping out much of the crop, or drought leading to low yields and high prices.

But this year? While I don’t personally like that the weather in South Carolina turned hot early and never cooled off, it was great for the peach crop. (And my hydrangeas, but that’s irrelevant.)

So I’ve been taking advantage of the locally grown peaches and nectarines, and buying pecks and half bushels of them at a time. But most days I’m the only one eating them straight up  (just pitted, peeled and sliced), and I can only eat so many that way before they go bad. I thought I’d share 8 other ways to enjoy and use up a bumper crop of peaches. (Reading this post in winter? That’s okay. Numbers 3-7 would work great with frozen peaches!)

1. Grill them

Grilled Peach and Steak Salad is a great entree salad that you can make indoors or out.

2. Make salsa

Instead of using tomatoes, make a fresh salsa using peaches. Combine one finely diced onion (you can soak it in ice water for 10 minutes to tame the bite before draining and adding to the other ingredients), one finely diced green pepper, minced jalapeno to taste, a minced or pressed clove of garlic, a sprinkle each of cumin, chili powder, and salt, and the juice of half a lime to 3 or 4 peeled, pitted and diced peaches. Cover and chill for a few hours before serving with chicken, fish, or chips.

3. BBQ them

I’ll have a recipe post up for Peachy BBQ Chicken soon, with pictures, but it couldn’t be easier. Peel, pit, and dice about a half dozen peaches. Cook them down in a saucepan, maybe with a spoonful of peach preserves if you have them. Once they’re soft and cooked down, add the entire bottle of your favorite bbq sauce. Let simmer and reduce for a half hour or so over medium-low heat, then brush on to baking or grilling chicken about 2/3 of the way through cooking. Serve with additional sauce on the side.

4. Bake some scones

I love scones. I love peaches. This Peach Scone recipe on the King Arthur Flour website combines those two loves. (Disclosure: I haven’t made this exact recipe yet, but I own three of KAF’s cookbooks and have never had a problem with their recipes.)

5. Cobble something together

I haven’t tried this Southern Living Peach Cobbler recipe, but it’s in my To-Make pile. Very highly rated on the site, and looks easy-peasy. Hmm…I do have a few dozen peaches staring at me. Maybe I’ll make it this week.

6. Make bread

Use up some peaches and have some healthy whole grains while you’re at it. The Peach-Oatmeal bread from KAF’s Whole Grain Baking book is a great quick bread recipe. I’ve made it, but I didn’t take any pictures, and KAF doesn’t have the recipe on their site. So if you’d like to make it before I get around to posting pics and instructions, the Slow Like Honey blog has the recipe and photos.

7. Chill

What could be better than peach ice cream in a waffle cone? Almost like a portable peach pie. Again, Southern Living has a Peach Ice Cream recipe that looks scrumptious, though this one doesn’t have any reviews and I haven’t tried it so I can’t give you any guidance. Don’t have an ice cream maker? I have one, but have misplaced the freezer bowl, so I’m going to try the method developed by the blogger at Serious Eats. (You can also use their recipe and just add pureed peaches to the custard base.)

8. Give some to friends

Who wouldn’t love a little gift basket of peaches? If you really have more than you can use, spread the wealth! It beats overloading friends with zucchini from your garden!

How do you like to eat your peaches? Have any favorite recipes to share? Let me know in the comments!

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Aug 242010
 

King Arthur FlourI just got an email from King Arthur Flour advertising free shipping on 50 favorite ingredients. I thought I’d highlight the products that I love that are included in the deal. And no, I don’t get a dime from any of these links (wish I did), but I love this company and its products. This sale ends Thursday, August 26th.

Here’s what’s available that I love:

KAF Unbleached All Purpose Flour – The only AP flour I use, and one of the only brands of flour I use, period. (White Lily still wins for biscuits, sorry.) Caveat: Even though it’s their own flour, I can get it for $3.99 at my local grocery store, sometimes cheaper on sale. If you can’t find the flour near you, then by all means order it and see what you think.

Vietnamese Cinnamon – This is cassia cinnamon like what we’re used to in the States, but with much more aroma and flavor. (True cinnamon is very floral and I don’t actually like it much. I prefer the heat of the cassia cinnamon.)

Fiori Di Sicilia – Don’t ask me to pronounce it, but this extract is like an amazing combination of vanilla and citrus and floral notes. It needs a simple sugar cookie recipe to really shine. If you’re feeling adventurous and love to bake, try this extract.King Arthur Flour Pizza Seasoning

Pizza Dough Flavor – This is a blend of cheese, garlic powder and other seasonings that you add to the dough when you’re making homemade pizza. It just gives it a little extra oomph and flavor. Great for garlic bread or breadsticks, too!

Pizza Seasoning – I’m on a pizza kick. We’ve had it two nights in a row so far and finishing leftovers tonight. I make the tastiest and quickest pizza sauce with about a teaspoon of this blend in a 28oz can of Progresso Tomato Puree. With a splash of olive oil. Done!

Coconut Flavor – Every year at Thanksgiving I make Paula Deen’s coconut cake. I consider this extract my secret ingredient to real coconutiness. Great in coconut chocolate chip cookies too. Ooh, and coconut cupcakes.

Vanilla Bean Paste – While any of the vanilla extracts that are on sale would be good, too, I love this vanilla paste. I think it has a more pronounced vanilla flavor and aroma, and you get the little flecks of seeds in your ice cream or pound cake. Save it for the recipes where vanilla’s the star.

Lemon Oil – I keep going back to pound cake, but this oil is more potent (and I think more natural) than lemon extract for a lemon pound cake, or lemon cookies, or lemon cupcakes. It’s a little more perishable, so I keep it in the fridge. They have orange and lime oils too, which are also free shipping, but I’m a lemon nut. (Or lemon fruit, I guess.)

Okay, I could link to all the other flours that are on sale, needless to say all of those are great, but I feel like this lists highlights the unexpected products that you might not have considered.  And don’t hold me to it, but I think the lighter weight products like the pizza seasoning are free shipping all the time. (KAF ships by weight, not order total.)

So now that I’ve told you some of mine, what are some of  your favorite ingredients?

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Aug 232010
 

grilled peach and steak saladA refreshing, easy, main dish salad for any night of the week. I do one steak per person, but you could easily serve four people with two steaks. A flank or skirt steak, grilled and sliced thin against the grain, would also work here. I had Omaha steaks in my freezer from Christmas, so that’s what I used.

Bonus: If you grill this dish outside, you don’t heat up the kitchen! (But I made it using an indoor grill pan because it was 95+ degrees here and I wasn’t going outside.)

Added Bonus: You can make the dressing days in advance, keep it in a container in the fridge. Just shake well before serving.

Start by halving, pitting and peeling, oh, maybe 2 peaches per person. I used a combination of peaches and nectarines. I don’t peel nectarines, but I do peel peaches. If the fuzziness of peach skin doesn’t bother you (like it bothers me – same with kiwi), then no need to peel. If you don’t like nectarine skin, then peel both. Whatever you prefer. Aren’t I flexible?

Removing peach pit flesh with melon baller

Removing peach pit flesh with melon baller

I remove the peach flesh where the pit was with a melon baller. (It can be a little hard or icky sometimes.) If there are any brown spots, cut those off.

Season the steak with a good amount of salt and pepper, and any other seasoning you like. I have a little sea salt steak blend, so I used that. You could use a blend of salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder. If you’re grilling outside, I would brush the steak and peaches with a little canola oil.

Preheat the grill or grill pan to medium high heat. Place the steak and peaches, cut side down, on the grill and cook for about 4 minutes per side. These steaks were like thick cubes so I had to go longer on each side. A flank steak on an outdoor grill may take less time. The best way to know if it’s done is with a meat thermometer. (I like the Taylor instant read thermometer.) I prefer medium rare, so I aim for 120-125 degrees.

Steak and peaches in the grill pan

Steak and peaches in the grill pan

While the steak and peaches are cooking, make the dressing. You need:

  • 1/4 cup good balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar (or all balsamic, if you prefer)
  • 1 very finely minced small shallot
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • pinch of salt
  • drizzle of honey
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients except oil, whisk well. (Or put in a lidded container, and shake well.) Slowly whisk in the oil. (Or shake even more well in the lidded container.) This makes more dressing than you need, but it’ll keep in the fridge for a week or longer.

Once the meat reaches your desired temperature and the peaches are softened, remove the steak to a plate to rest for 5-10 minutes (cover with foil) and places the peaches on a cutting board.

Carefully dice the peaches, and put in a bowl with a tablespoon or so of the dressing (the warm peaches will really soak up the flavors).

Grilled peaches in a balsamic viniagrette

The grilled, diced peaches in the vinaigrette

Meanwhile, assemble the salad. I like romaine lettuce for crunch and spinach or spring mix for color, tenderness and extra nutrition. We add carrots, tomatoes (for me, not my husband, but that means more for me), and crumbled feta cheese. I bet the salad would be great with thinly sliced red onion, or goat cheese instead of feta, or blue cheese, whatever you like. Add the vinaigrette to taste (don’t overdress!), and toss.

Grilled peach and steak salad

Yum!

Slice the rested steak into strips and top the salad with the steak and diced peaches. Enjoy!

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Aug 202010
 
my melon baller

My melon baller

I love my melon baller, and this time of year I use it nearly every day.

No, not because fragrant, delicious cantaloupes are in season. I can’t recall ever using a melon baller to, um, ball melons. (Is there a more polite word than that?) Yes, they look pretty in the little ball shapes, but it wastes too much of that wonderful flesh. (Not to mention takes too much time! Much quicker to chop a melon in nice chunks, and just as presentable.)

No, I use my melon baller on other types of fruit. For instance:

  • If you’ve ever cut a peach in half and removed the pit, you’ve noticed that the flesh that touched the pit is just a little..um..unappetizing. Sometimes the peach flesh is hardened, other times there are little specks of mold if a gap forms between the pit and the flesh. Rather than try to cut it out with a paring knife, I use my melon baller to remove that interior flesh cleanly and quickly.
  • A melon baller is a quick and easy way to core apples. Simply cut the apple in half, put the melon baller over the core, press into the apple and turn. The core is gone, with no wasted fruit!
  • Remove the seeds and base from a pear. Cut in half and remove the core as you would with an apple, then put the cup of the melon baller on the base (blossom end) of the pear to remove that part.
  • I’ve even used it to hull strawberries. Place the cup at the edge of the stem, turn it into the berry and around, then pop the hull out. (Works best with larger berries.)

Other uses for a melon baller:

  • Dig out black spots and sprouted eyes from a potato.
  • Hollow out red potatoes for stuffing.
  • Use it to scoop cookie dough if you don’t have a cookie scoop.
  • Scoop out cute little balls of ice cream for a kid’s party.
  • Scoop little balls of chocolate ganache for making truffles.

Basically, a melon baller can be a substitute in a pinch for a little cookie scoop and the endless uses that tool has. I do know someone who uses a round measuring spoon for many of these tasks instead of owning a melon baller, but my measuring spoons are too thick to work that way (as is my cookie scoop). Also, I like that a melon baller has a hole in the base of the cup so you can poke out whatever you’re scooping in case it gets stuck.

Here’s what I look for in a melon baller:

Melon baller handle

The handle on my melon baller. Note the groove for my index finger.

A comfy handle. You do have to use a little force, depending on what you’re scooping, and it helps to have an ergonomic handle to grip. If it’s got a little texture to it, so much the better for holding onto it when your hands are messy with fruit juice or cookie dough. A thin, straight, metal handle would be about the worst option. I like my handle because it’s thick, tapered, has a little groove for my index finger, and a good length for balance and control. It could be squishier or more textured, but I’ve never had a problem hanging onto it.

Melon baller cup

The cup or bowl of my melon baller

A sturdy cup with thin edges. I saw a melon baller once that had a little lip on the edge of the cup, instead of a straight edge. Why on earth would they essentially dull the cutting blade? All you’re gonna do then is crush more fruit when you’re trying to cleanly cut something, if the thicker edge could cut through it at all. No, you want a thin but strong edge so you get a clean ball with less damage to whatever you’re scooping.

My melon baller is so old that I can’t find anything like it on Amazon. But this Leifheit model looks to have a good, long, tapered handle (with a nonslip red insert), a thin-edged bowl, and even a hole for hanging. Yes, it’s a little more expensive, but I think a good handle is worth it.

If you want a little more versatility, the Oxo melon baller comes with two cups, about a teaspoon and a half teaspoon capacities. While I like having options, I worry that the handle itself will be too small for my pudgy hands, and wonder if I’d hit the cutting board with the other cup while trying to scoop something. Knowing Oxo, I’m sure the handle has a great grip to it, though.

The important thing when buying a melon baller is to hold it. Place the cup against your hand and press a little. Does it feel sturdy? Is the handle easy to grip? Does the edge seem sharp? (Obviously, don’t press so hard that you cut yourself, but you should get a good idea of the sharpness without going that far.)

A stainless steel cup would be great. Mine says that in little letters, but there’s no brand name. (Just Made in Japan.) It’s probably dishwasher safe, but I only put dishes and silverware in the dishwasher, not kitchenware, so I’ve never tried. It just takes a quick rinse after I use it and it’s good to go.

Do you own a melon baller? What do you use it for? Do you love it? Let me know in the comments!

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